“Service is ultimately a journey into the unknown,” says Ram Dass. “We can either be frustrated or worn out by uncertainty and doubt or try to find a way to open to the ambiguity, embrace it, work with it, be moved and inspired by it…and thereby come closer to the very heart of service where true freedom is found.”
As with most mornings, my early waking moments are met by the breath of our dog. Pawing, whining, and showing belly, Smudges wags her broken, L-shaped tail, while lying on her back between my husband and I. Willie Grommit, our disabled Texas rescue, scampers across the floor at the foot of the bed, sending off a howl. Smudges joins in. But the song is obscured by the clumsy attempt of our Oklahoma rescue, Charlie, who can no more pull off a howl than a frog can sing.
The morning canine cacophony sends me into joyful beginnings. These days, my days begin and end with dogs. Many moments in between are about serving their needs.
A deep want weighed down by self-doubt, uncertainty, and frustration of distance (it’s hard to help from 600 miles away) seeps in as I take a first sip of my morning coffee: those 26 dogs in Sterling City, Texas, are still in need of forever homes.
For weeks now, I’ve been struggling to find opportunities. Looking for a soft place to land in an overcrowded state that sees more animals in need than it has will to care for is the Sisyphean boulder crushing my optimistic spirit.
Roughly 1,000 people call Sterling City home. Its municipal shelter is run by a homegrown Texan with a gift for gab and heart for the animals he takes in. Limping along on a budget of $3,000 a year, he supplements the paltry sum of $8.22 daily by pulling from the reaches of his modest pockets for flea and tick medicine, kibble, and the occasional Kong toy.
Eight dollars and twenty-two cents a day would barely keep our Southern three in Bully bites, let alone Fromm kibble.
For weeks, since I first signed on to volunteer, e-mails and voicemails sent to every and any shelter or rescue with an existence or hopeful space have been met with radio silence. Texas is as filled-up with homeless dogs (and cats, too) in the springtime as Colorado is clogged with traffic along I-25.
Why? Failures (or refusal) to spay and neuter animals is a continual driver, interminably fueling homeless animal populations. When a homeless dog gets his furever home, animal lovers feel the hard-won relief settle in.
Despite overwhelm and fears to the contrary, relief came in the form of a response to one of the calls: an invitation to a shelter in Texas with more space and resources than the one in Sterling City. They can intake the 26 dogs in need. It’s a matter of vetting and transport, expense and cooperation. A bit of testing, supported with a bit of donating, and they could be on their way to opportunities for that happy home life I hold deep in my heart.
Herein lies the true work and freedom of which Ram Dass speaks. I feel all the uncertainty, fear, overwhelm, anxiety, and frustration dissipate into a swelling of reaffirmation of my faith in humanity. I realize, too, that every impulse to step up and step in is intimately tied with my own desires to feel needed and acknowledged, and it is those very needs giving rise to this type of work. Every time I help an animal feel seen, I help a little piece of myself feel acknowledged.
This kind of work hungers for the grounding of a most intangible element: faith.
Faith that the people involved hold the best interests of the dogs close to their heart. Faith in the good people working at the shelter to do right by those 26 dogs. Faith in the potential adopters—that they’ll treat the dogs right, train them, and give them a beautiful, happy dog life, for the stories of bad outcomes for dogs in Texas are as replete as they are shocking.
I think of our own sweet Willie Grommit every day, feeling both the effects of life’s cruelty visited upon his innocent and fragile, broken body, alongside the stubborn faith of others who have stepped up to help save him.
Somewhere in the intangible suggestion of faith lies the touch of relief. Within it, words of letting go and trusting arise.
Service work, no matter the recipient of our devoted passion, is as fraught with uncertainty as the outcome of war in Ukraine. Trust is inherent, despite voices of fear and caution reminding otherwise. Alongside our deep desires for a happy outcome, something else is healed when we undertake the more challenging problems on behalf of those in need:
Faith in humanity, the good outcome of which can replace all doubt.
It’s a little like watching Mitch McConnell shaking hands with President Zelensky and promising to do all he can to push forth the $40 billion package. In the face of division, sociopolitical chaos and extremism, humanity and the will to live, even his tiny heart could feel the Ukrainian will to live.
And this morning, I’m going to apply such hope for a good outcome to live happy and healthy lives to those 26 beautiful dogs in Sterling City, Texas.
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